Webs of Belief
I was reading the March 13 New Yorker Magazine Tuesday evening. I was working from home during the snowstorm on Tuesday, and I treated myself to curling up with the actual magazine with a nice glass of red wine.
I’m one of those people who start at the very beginning. I read the cover. I read the Table of Contents. I note the contributors. Then I read The Mail.
One piece of mail struck me as interesting. It was commentary on an article written by Elizabeth Kolbert, a psychologist, who had discussed three psychology books on the limits of human reasoning – in this instance, she was referring to the human ability to deny the efficacy of proven if those facts don’t support a person’s worldview.
The commentary was made by a philosophy professor, who was annoyed that these ideas were being claimed as psychological ideas, because, in her view, philosophy had been exploring these same ideas for decades prior.
The commentary, made by Sharon Schwarze, elegantly explained Willard Van Orman Quine’s idea, the “web of belief.” As in a spider’s web, the strands holding the beliefs together are more concentrated at the center, and therefore, more “entrenched.” Those ideas at the center move together – they are more entwined, and therefore, reliant upon one another’s integrity. If a fact comes along to disprove one or many of these central ideas, people will discard the fact because it doesn’t support the narrative of the central belief.
Do We Own Ideas?
It seemed she was trying to reclaim these ideas away from psychology and put them squarely in the philosophical camp – and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why they can’t be in both camps. Philosophers explore observed events that lead to philosophical conclusions; psychologists tests these conclusions to verify their voracity.
But a psychologist can come up with the idea, too. Just as a storyteller might, or as a scientist, or a poet, or an artist, or a musician might.
Humans Have Ideas. Sometimes The Same Ideas.
These are human ideas. We are all living a human experience; we are bound to notice the same ideas. We explore these ideas in our own way. When we do, we have multiple expressions of a single idea, and therefore a fuller, richer understanding of these ideas.
We do not own ideas. We borrow them, we play with them, and show the world what we’ve done with them.
Many Approaches to The Central Idea of Healing
The different aspects of healthcare, I believe, are the same thing. The premise of all branches of healthcare want the same thing: the health and wellbeing of the public. When different doctors or professions try to deny the efficacy of the other professions and claim ownership of this central idea, it is a form of this dissonance of which Schwarze spoke, and Quine espoused.
I hope that Schwarze one day sees the irony of falling squarely in the middle of Quine’s web.
I hope docs who think they corner the market on healing step out of their center into a larger world.